Over the past 10 years, there has been lots of progress in the Lake Houston area in the recycling of resources. The City of Houston has led the way in many ways. One of their first steps was to put a sustainable weekend recycling program together for Kingwood. Each weekend many tons of materials are recycled at the Metro lot by residents. Five years ago, the city started the monthly electronic recycling program and with their partner, CompuCycle; they have saved over 560 tons of electronics from going to the landfill. About three years ago, the city started curbside recycling all across the city. Shortly thereafter, they began collecting organic waste (leaves, grass clippings, brush and tree waste) to be made into mulch and compost. About five years ago, Humble ISD put recycling collection containers at all of their schools. Private trash companies, too, are now offering curbside recycling and slowly most home owners associations are signing up for that service. So, there have been lots of steps forward. A little bit at a time, more valuable resources are being recycled and are no longer going to the Atascocita landfill.
Like the stock market, though, nothing goes straight up forever. A new challenge the recycling industry is facing is coming from – of all places – China. In mid-2017, China announced it would no longer take 24 types of commodities from other nations. The ones that affect what we recycle in the U.S. and have consistently exported to China are mixed paper products, including magazines and phone books, as well as varieties of scrap plastics, including food packaging and other commonly recycled household items. Some of these bans went into Chinese law on Jan. 1. It has been a big challenge for the U.S. recycling industry to find new customers for these products. Consequently, many bales of these commodities have been piling up in warehouses across the country. It is taking time to find new customers, but the industry says they are up to the challenge. We certainly hope they are. We also hope that U.S. companies will take a second look at the abundance of these materials and begin to use more of them in their manufacturing processes rather than importing virgin raw materials.
The Trex Company of Winchester, Va. is one such company that sells a lumber-type material for decks and other outdoor uses. It is made from recycled polyethylene plastic and scrap wood, including sawdust. It is long lasting and is molded to look like regular lumber. This company claims to keep 200,000 tons of plastic and wood scrap out of American landfills each year. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful business opportunity for some Texas company to find a way to use our recycled plastics and wood waste to make materials for a long lasting “cedar-type” fence? Almost every home has one. We could save a lot of trees in the process!
Why has China made this decision? It seems there are several reasons. As the standard of living in China has improved, they now use more of these commodities themselves. They have implemented stricter recycling rules and now are mandating and getting more product from within the country. Probably the more important reason is that much of the product we have been sending to them has had a high degree of contamination mixed in. The contamination then must be removed and disposed of in China. Frankly, they don’t want to bury our trash in their backyard any longer. How do we contaminate the product so badly they don’t want it? Anything that is not called for in the recycling bin is a contaminant. We often “wish” recycle. We look at an item that we “hate” to put in the trash and instead put it in the recycling bin. We “wish” we could recycle it and so we do. We think they will figure out a way to recycle it. The machines at the recycling center may be fooled and so it gets baled and sold to a manufacture or sent off to China or elsewhere. At some point, the contaminant must be pulled out and land-filled. We need to do a better job as residents of making that decision before it gets sent through the whole recycling process, wasting time and money for the industry.
A few dates to put on your calendar for upcoming recycling events:
On the first Saturday of every month CompuCycle is at the Kingwood Metro lot to accept electronic waste from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. The service is free! It is fast and easy.
On April 28, City of Houston residents can recycle batteries, oils, water-based paint, antifreeze, large appliances and scrap metal from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Kingwood Metro lot. You must be a City of Houston resident except for the large appliances and scrap metal. The recycling vendor for the appliances and scrap metal will accept these items from any Lake Houston resident. This collection is called a BOPA and is free.
On the same date and same place but from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. the DEA will be collecting unused medications and drugs. Open to all, no question asked. Dispose of these items responsibly.